I recent received an email asking the following:
I have a translation/word use question I was hoping you could explain to me.
In Leviticus 19:18, my ESV says “You shall not take vengence or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.”
In James (in several places, but specifically 2:1) James uses the word “Lord” (“our Lord Jesus Christ” and “the Lord of glory”).
I was wondering, because I’ve noticed this before and not ever figured it out – why does it sometimes say LORD (all caps) and sometimes Lord (with only the L capitalized)? Is this a different word origin? Both are referring to the triune God, so I’m curious as to the difference.
Here is my attempt at a concise answer:
When the English translators use LORD in all caps, they are translating the personal name for God: Yahweh. See Exodus 3 where the LORD reveals himself to Moses in the burning bush. Basically, it reminds us that the LORD is a God who keeps His covenant… His promises. He is a God who is loyal, persistent, and unfailing in His love for His people. He takes us to be His people and He promises to be our God.
This is distinctive from the name for God in Genesis 1:1 where Moses writes: “In the beginning, God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth.” This is the powerful name of God…the one who is the creator and sustainer of all things.
‘Lord’ in smaller letters reflects the name “adonai” which has the notion of master.
Now when the religious Jews still read their Old Testaments, they have such respect and honor for the name Yahweh that they never take that name for God on their lips. They also say out loud “adonai” in respect and honor for the name of Yahweh. Would that we had the same reverence for the LORD.
There is plenty more you could say about this, but that’s enough for now. Hope it helps and thanks for asking!